fantasies / first-drafting / inspirations / writing / writing spots

The Two Weeks and the 43,258 Words

I am home now, from a stroke of good luck: a two-week “emergency residency” at the MacDowell Colony, a perfect artists’ colony in New Hampshire. I decided to do something different while there. Instead of my usual slow, plodding pace for writing a first draft of a novel, where I circle in on myself and revise as I go, thus stalling me for weeks on end, I told myself I’d write forward. Only forward. And I’d also try to give myself a daily word count. The word count started off as 2,000 words a day… but things were going so well that I upped it to 3,000.

Every morning in my live-in studio in the woods, I would get up at 6:50 a.m. and walk to Colony Hall for delicious breakfast—I was obsessed with breakfast—then back up my writing from the day before in the library and go back to work through the whole day until dinnertime, at 6:30. After dinner, I’d work, too, which meant I sacrificed so much of what being at a colony is all about (hanging out with other artists, seeing every single presentation, sharing my own work with everyone, which I didn’t do this time, and playing games like Ping-Pong and Scrabble and “PIG” on the pool table, which should be said I am terrible at, but I try very enthusiastically, hey, I try), but I was desperate for words, words, words. That’s why my emergency residency had been approved, after all: My deadline was November 1. And I was determined to write as much as I could.

Oh, wow did I.

Here is a peek at some of the scribbles in my notebook while I was away:

macd13_scribble1

macd13_scribble2

macd13_scribble3

macd13_scribble4

macd13_scribble5

macd13_scribble6

macd13_scribble7

macd13_scribble8

Final count of new words written, in just two weeks?

43,238

!!!!

I kept track every day, so here’s a breakdown:

all the words biggest

I’m not bragging. I’m just kind of stunned and want to document this. I’ve never written that fast before—and keep in mind, these are first draft words… there will be changes, there will be cuts, many cuts, there will be deep crimson flushes of embarrassment when I read over some of these words later. Even so. Even so! I’ve never written so much in so short a time. I probably never will again. I just want to remember these two short, productive weeks for always.

Another thing I did that I don’t usually do in my writing life at home is map out my book’s plot on the walls. It was only because I walked into my studio (usually a studio used for dancers and photographers) and discovered a GIANT space and white walls with push pins, empty and waiting to be made use of.

(Nef studio, usually used for photographers, artists, and dancers/choreographers.)

(Nef studio, usually used for photographers, artists, and dancers/choreographers.)

So I rearranged the furniture a few times, finally settling on having the desk toward the center of the big space, and did this…

That is a working map of my book’s plot on the wall.

macd13_desksetup

(Photo taken from the sleeping loft. Not pictured: LOTS of space, including a fireplace and room for dancing and darkroom and cathedral ceiling with exposed wooden beams… It was surreal.)

I posted my word count on Instagram while I was away, and author Beth Revis asked about my process, if I’d done anything different to get all these words. It got me thinking.

Beth said, “I’d love to know more about your process here. What caused such a huge word count? Being in a new place? The ability to focus? A new method?”

And here’s what I answered her:

I think part of it is this place itself… I knew I’d be productive here, which is why I wrote them and requested the emergency time before my Nov. 1 deadline. But I never never expected to be THIS productive. I think it helped that I pushed myself to write forward and not tinker and revise as much as I usually do. I only let myself work on a few pages from the day before to get momentum, then pushed forward. I also gave myself a daily word count. And I also mapped out the book visually on the wall and spent a lot of time looking at it. But the biggest thing was probably this: there is no internet in the studios at the colony (one of the big reasons I wanted to come). No TV either. Just me and my book.

Also! I did a lot of reading (instead of TV watching). During this time of writing all these words, I was hungrily borrowing books from the fellows library, and I read 9 books! On #10 now!

But so much of it was the place. The colony whose motto is “freedom to create.”

(The road to my studio. A beautiful walk during the day. A scary walk in the nighttime because I am afraid of the dark.)

(The road to my studio. A beautiful walk during the day. A scary walk in the nighttime because I am afraid of the dark.)

(The newly renovated fellows library, where I took out all those books and went to check email, as this is the only place at the colony with internet access.)

(The newly renovated and expanded fellows library, where I took out all those books and went to check email, as this is the only place at the colony with wifi access.)

(What windows.)

(What windows.)

(No MacDowell Colony blog post is complete without mention of the lunches... delicious lunches... that they deliver to your door each day in a picnic basket.)

(No MacDowell Colony blog post is complete without mention of the lunches… delicious lunches… that they deliver to your door each day in a picnic basket.)

(Every night the artists gather for dinner in Colony Hall. The dinner bell rings at 6:30.)

(Every night the artists gather for dinner in Colony Hall. The dinner bell rings at 6:30.)

(The nights were dark. If a building wasn't nearby, it was absolute darkness.)

(The nights were dark. If a building wasn’t nearby, it was absolute darkness.)

(Every studio has its own set of tombstones, signed by the artists who've stayed there.)

(Every studio has its own set of tombstones, signed by the artists who’ve stayed there. I was excited to discover Lucy Puls’s name… she’s an incredible artist who I met at Yaddo in 2010!)

(I enjoyed visiting the chickens—i.e., "the ladies"—each morning.)

(I enjoyed visiting the chickens—i.e., “the ladies”—each morning.)

(This gang of wild turkeys would wander the colony. Years ago, on my first visit to the MacDowell Colony in 2005, I was surrounded by a flock of wild turkeys that followed me up to the door of my studio in a tight bunch and I called E in a panic. I stayed away from them this time... wary.)

(This gang of wild turkeys would wander the colony. Years ago, on my first visit to the MacDowell Colony in 2005, I was surrounded by a flock of wild turkeys that followed me up to the door of my studio in a tight bunch and I called E in a panic. He cracked up. I stayed away from them this time… wary.)

(I was so busy writing, I didn't get to see even one moose or bear! A group of artists saw a bobcat outside the library before dinner one night and I was terribly envious.)

(I was so busy writing, I didn’t get to see even one moose or bear! A group of artists saw a bobcat outside the library before dinner one night and I was terribly envious.)

(My favorite photographer. She did a residency at the MacDowell Colony in July 1980.)

(My favorite photographer. She did a residency at the MacDowell Colony in July 1980.)

(Here's a photo of me from my last breakfast—strawberry-banana pancakes! Photo taken by my composer friend Alvin. Look how dazed and happy I am about all the words I wrote!)

(Here’s a photo of me from my last breakfast—strawberry-banana pancakes! Photo taken by my composer friend Alvin. Look how dazed and happy I am about all the words I wrote!)

I am forever grateful to the kind and generous people in admissions who approved my emergency residency and made room for me for two weeks in this heavenly place. I feel like I was hit by a miracle, and still can’t believe all the words I wrote.

Most. Productive. Residency. EVER. When I die, I’m giving my fortunes (ha) to the MacDowell Colony so I can help gift weeks like this to future writers.

Now here is the moment you decide to apply:

APPLY TO THE MAGICAL MACDOWELL COLONY

MacDowellWordMark

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4 thoughts on “The Two Weeks and the 43,258 Words

  1. This is so awesome. I learned to silence the inner editor–the one who wants to revise each sentence ad nauseum–by doing NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words in one month is daunting at first but then when you are in the middle of it, it gets easier. Now this is the way I write. Write it first, edit it later. Okay, maybe I don’t ALWAYS do it this way but I try. Congrats on the word count.

  2. It looks, sounds and probably feels like a dream. Of course we all think we could write endlessly if we were in such a writer-friendly environment, but many don’t. So well done!

  3. Wow, what an inspiring post. Getting that many words on paper in an idyllic place like this must have been a great feeling. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience.

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